Friday 2 December 2016

Bus Broken in Blackpool (5)

The Chess Game Explained!
It is easy to start a "Limited Company". You simply buy one (fbb's cost £100). It will have a silly same (Solent Blue Line's was Musterphantom Limited) which you change; you choose wide ranging articles of association which say that you will be a Transport Operator but you might do almost anything else as well. Directors are appointed and have to pay cash for the company's shares. (fbb had two directors, putting £250 each into the pot for 500 shares of £1 each).

In the box, you get a company seal.
And you are in business. You must send an annual return and lodge annual accounts with Companies House. For a small company, you do not even need auditors.

To run buses you then need an operators licence which involves ensuring that the Directors are "of good repute" (have some cash, and have not been banned) and that you have a Transport Manager who is qualified. Back in fbb's day this Certificate of Personal Competence was not difficult to obtain although all the regulations have been tightened up subsequently. You need an operating base. Oh yes, and a bus or two.

These must be properly maintained and, effectively, be given an "MOT" test every four to six weeks (depending on mileage operated).  Repeated test failures are a no-no and you risk being shut down. Your buses can also be inspected at any time whilst on the road and impounded without warning.

If you want to run a public service you need to register the route and timetable with the Traffic Commissioners. 

Although the company's responsibilities to the outside world are "Limited", its officers are personally and financially liable for abiding by the rules.

A Blackpool bus operator is facing a seven year ban after a transport inspector ruled it did not comply with the terms of its licence. Oakwood Travel, now operating under the name Catch 22 Bus Ltd, has been involved in a long running series of hearings with the Traffic Commissioner over its licence. Alongside the appeal application, she was asked to consider a stay of her decisions regarding the company, its director Philip Higgs, and transport manager Frank Steele, pending the outcome of any appeal hearing. Its owner Philip Higgs was also linked to Classic Bus North West and Totally Transport as well as Red Rocket buses.
The Commissioner, Beverley Bell, ruled that licences for Classic Bus and Totally Transport be revoked and then after a complex series of hearings ruled that Oakwood Travel and Catch 22’s licence should end on July 31 2015 and that Mr Higgs be banned.

The wrangle began in July 2014 when licences were revoked for Classic Bus and Totally Transport due to having no financial standing.

We know (from previous blogs) that Classic Bus North West went bust in December 2013 after closing down its route 80 and the contract with Lancashire without the requisite periods of notice.
Going bust due to "financial difficulties" suggests questions of management competence and might make the Commissioner consider that Mr Higgs "good repute" wasn't, But we haven't hearts of the Community Interest Company "Totally Transport". This was tied in with the Lancashire Transport Trust and, according to local sources, undertook vehicle refurbishment.
The Commissioner heard how Classic Bus had been sold in a pre-pack deal to Oakwood which was based at the same base in Brinwell Road in December 2013. In the inspector’s report she stated that Oakwood had been operating nine vehicles when it only had authority for eight and that its then transport manager Frank Steele was based at a haulage yard at Huyton in Merseyside and he did not know how many vehicles were needed to operate service 12 or service 22 in Blackpool.

Not the best way forward!

She also said that Mr Higgs had not notified them that he was the director of Oakwood. The hearing was adjourned until 25 July 2014 when Frank Steele did not turn up. The hearing was adjourned again and reconvened on September 3 2014 when all parties were present.

Not an ideal response!

The Commissioner was told of a complaint by Blackpool Council about about Oakwood advertising a Blackpool illuminations tour for 10 weeks without it being registered with the Traffic Commissioners. 

The council also complained about anti-competitive practices on service 22 and apparently unachievable running times on service 12 which was investigated by Traffic Examiner Brian Newton who said the company’s 22 service was using the Tesco stand and not Langdale Road as it was contracted and not hitting the frequency rate for services.

The Commissioner was also concerned that it was not clear whether Classic Bus or Oakwood Travel was the operator of certain services. The hearings resumed on September 10 2014 and again on April 27 2015 but Mr Higgs asked for the investigation to be started all over again with a new inspector and made a formal complaint.

On May 22 2015 Mrs Bell rejected his request for her to step down and instead made the ruling to ban him from operating a bus company and to end the licence of Oakwood Travel from July 31 2015. 

She stated: “I therefore conclude that I would be failing in my duty if I did not make an order for the revocation of the licence for Oakwood and the disqualification of the company and of Philip Higgs as a director due to loss of repute and loss of professional competence.” Frank Steele was also banned as a transport manager for five years.

After a long and complicated investigation he has lodged an appeal with the Upper Tribunal against the Traffic Commissioner’s orders, saying the hearings were unfair.

A statement from the inspectors’ office said: “Alongside the appeal application, the Traffic Commissioner was asked to consider a stay of her decisions regarding the company, its director Philip Higgs, and transport manager Frank Steele, pending the outcome of any appeal hearing. “After considering that request, Mrs Bell decided to stay her decision to revoke the company’s licence and disqualify the company, its director and the transport manager. She did so due to the complexity of the case and the delay in the decision being issued.

“Accordingly, this means the orders will not now come into effect on July 31 2015, pending the outcome of any appeal hearing.”
A stay pf execution for Mr Higgs. Now; if you were in trouble with the authorities you might consider it a wide counsel to keep your hands clean, lie low and run you bus company absolutely according to the rules.

But a video had appeared on YouTube which purported to show Mrs Bell breaking the law as she drove her motor car via the M58 and M6.
Police investigations revealed that although the video was pseudonymously headed, the perpetrator was Mr Higgs.

It would appear that Mr Higgs' relationship with the Traffic Commissioners was terminal.

Which is where we came in!
A ban from 18th January 2017. But the company is defiant and has lodged another appeal. Pending that (protracted) process the expansion of the network later this month will continue and there would be no January capitulation.

On-line opinions are mixed, ranging from "It is good to get these cowboys off the road" to "This is one of the better companies and it should not disappear."

Meanwhile Mrs Bell has announced her resignation from April 2017.

In a shock announcement Beverley Bell - Britain’s most senior transport regulator - has resigned from both her posts. Beverley Bell will leave her STC and TC jobs in spring 2017.

Mrs Bell, 55, will leave her post of Traffic Commissioner (TC) for the North West of England in Spring 2017. The date coincides with the end of her term as Senior Traffic Commissioner (STC), for which she is not seeking re-appointment.

Where do we go from here?
Advent Calendar
Those who reject conventional religion today are quick to cry out, "Look at all the trouble religion has caused throughout history."

Isaiah (and God) would agree, under the circumstances.

Islamic extremism, the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Troubles in Northern Ireland are all examples of religion being bent to achieve political ends.

Isaiah lived at a time when religion was heavily damaged by idolatry and corruption of the purity of the faith. It is not surprising that the inspired message was that God hated the (false) religion of the people.
But the prophet saw an alternative.

Stop doing wrong.
Learn to do right!
Seek justice,
Encourage the oppressed.
Defend the cause of the fatherless,
plead the case of the widow.

Though your sins are like scarlet
They can be as white as snow.

So why, you may ask, doesn't God make this happen?
 Next Leicester blog : Saturday 3rd December? 


  1. Mrs Bell is not completely going

    To provide continuity Mr Higgs may still have to face her!

  2. Surely there must at some point be an end to how many appeals can be lodged before the TC actually enforces this ban?